Promoting Food Safety: Why It Is Important To Get Fresh Produce Washing Right

As a supplier or purchaser of fresh produce, it’s absolutely vital that the highest produce washing standards are met and maintained. While almost all food manufacturers adhere to basic regulations, it is important to accurately monitor levels of disinfectant to ensure adequate safety measures are in place.

The importance of proper levels of disinfectant in produce washing

The case for proper washing procedures was made woefully apparent this year in the USA, when an outbreak of E.Coli that affected 98 people in 22 states was traced back to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. Concerningly, the contamination occurred during the packaging and distribution chain – as opposed to at the farm where the lettuce was grown. It has also not been traced back to a specific supplier or brand.

A need for consistent standards

Globally, foodborne illnesses kill 420,000 people per year – and cause 600 million people to fall ill, according to statistics from the World Health Organisation. With this recent E.Coli outbreak in the USA, and the ongoing threat of foodborne disease around the world, it has never been more important to ensure produce is washed with adequate levels of disinfectant.

The recent E.Coli case in America is particularly important for retailers in the UK, as the CDC has issued advice to avoid ALL bagged romaine lettuce – severely hindering sales for all producers and creating fear in consumers. The lack of a clear culprit is also troubling. Regardless of where the outbreak occurs, it is impractical to expect a customer to be able to discern whether your own produce is safe. In times of foodborne illness, all manufacturers will suffer.

This makes it doubly vital that the UK adopts a better standard of fresh produce sanitisation – testing regularly for sanitisers including chlorine, chlorine dioxide and peroxyacetic acid to ensure levels are adequate. Only with adequate levels of disinfectant can manufacturers aim to eliminate outbreaks.

Important cases for fresh produce washers

Germany

One of the world’s worst foodborne outbreaks was an E.Coli case that occurred in sprouted vegetables coming from a farm in Bienenbuttel, Lower Saxony, Germany. The outbreak affected a total of 3950 people and led to 53 deaths – making it Europe’s worst ever foodborne illness case. During the scare, cucumbers were wrongly blamed as the culprit. This case led to a sharp fall in sales of cucumbers and other fresh produce – leading to massive material losses for farmers and a lack of buyer confidence.

USA

A 2011 listeriosis outbreak in the US was linked to cantaloupe melons grown at Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado. The outbreak killed 33 people and caused one women to miscarry – making it one of the deadliest in US history. This case is notable because listeria is usually found in unpasteurised foods and meat. The FDA found that the melons were infected by dirty equipment that had been repurposed from potato processing factories.
The company responsible, Jensen Brothers, declared bankruptcy following the event. The owners, Eric and Ryan Jensen, were arrested and charged criminally for failing to adequately wash their cantaloupes. It was one of the rare cases of criminal responsibility being established. 66 victims also managed to gain settlements related to the outbreak in 2015.
Overall, this case serves as the perfect example of the immense risks of not properly washing salads. Not only can owners be prosecuted, but you can also find your business shut down and forced to pay immense legal costs.

UK

In 2013, a major supermarket issued a recall on its own-brand watercress due to an E.Coli outbreak that affected 15 people. The brand had to recall more than just the watercress, removing a number of organic produce lines – showcasing the impact of even minor scares.

NHS Advice to Consumers

In 2016, the UK media was gripped by sensational stories of bagged, washed salad posing a salmonella risk. The report came from a peer-reviewed journal named Applied and Environmental Microbiology However, the NHS analysed the reporting to remind consumers that no actual bagged salads had been found to be contaminated. Instead, the issue is that there is simply a potential for salmonella to grow in a bagged environment.

For produce washers, this advice is interesting – the report did not help consumers determine whether they’d be safer with unwashed salad, salad washed in spring water or chlorinated water. It instead indicated that if salmonella was already present, broken salad leaves could make the issue worse. The news simply reinforces the demand on growers and packagers to ensure they do all that they can to eliminate bacteria in the production process.

Conclusion

For produce buyers, the demand for measures against contamination is ever-present throughout the world– to protect against brand damage through to bankruptcy and even criminal charges. With foodborne illness still rife, it is vital that produce washers adopt the highest possible food safety standards – and adequate disinfectant is constantly monitored.

Even if, as often occurs, a case cannot be traced back to a single supplier, it is still in a produce buyer’s best interest to ensure that there is a consistent standard that must be adhered to by all producers. By supporting a better level of disinfectant monitoring, fresh produce suppliers can ensure customer safety and therefore increase buyer confidence. The alternative could mean mass outbreaks and a general boycott of certain types of produce, regardless of its origin.

At Palintest, we are striving to equip every facility with the means to ensure their disinfectant levels are providing safety to all customers. If you are a produce buyer, we hope you will support our goal and commit your growers and packagers to a new level of disinfectant monitoring and subsequent food safety.

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